In terra aliena

Rodney Marshall explains how Anglican Catholics can find a way to remain within the CofE with integrity and honesty after the November Synod

 

Whatever happens at the recalled Synod in November the Church of England will be something very different from that which we have known and served, and maybe even loved. Post November 2012 will be a time of reflection and decision for all of us. How are we to respond to these fundamental changes in the nature of our Church? Some, no doubt, will leave either to the Ordinariate or to Rome, but many will feel called to stay. How can that be done with integrity and honesty?

Harmful nostalgia

One thing that seems built into the Anglo-Catholic psyche is nostalgia. Though few of us were around at the time of the great Anglo-Catholic Congresses of the Twenties and Thirties, we nevertheless get a warm glow and a tingle down the spine when we read John Betjeman’s description of those heady days:

Under the ‘Travers baroque’, in a lime-washed whiteness,
The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness,
The bells and banners – those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.

That there were such days is not in doubt, but I believe one thing is certain: it would be disastrous, as a response to the present crisis, to try and recapture them. The Church has changed and the world has changed and we will do our cause immense harm if we try to travel the romantic road. But having said that it would be equally disastrous to forget our past. We have a history, or to use the popular jargon a patrimony which was glorious but also can be our inspiration for the future.

Much of this patrimony is already part of our on-going life as catholics in the Church of England, the daily Mass, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady, the use of the sacrament of penance, our commitment to mission and outreach, our desire to learn about and deepen our faith. But there is another part of our catholic Anglican patrimony which we do not think about so much but which has always been a sort of backdrop to all catholics have been able to do in the Church of England.

Better together

The Church of England has always been at its best when it has encompassed people of widely differing views in the one family. This has even been true within the catholic movement itself. The Church has been at its worst when it has tried to exclude people. At its best members have been able to say to each other ‘I disagree with you profoundly’, ‘ I believe you are totally wrong’, ‘I will do my uttermost to convince you of your wrongheadedness’, but at the same time ‘I recognize that we have much in common and that you are sincere in your desire to spread the gospel’.

This is not to subscribe to a lowest common denominator version of the catholic faith, nor to retreat from saying that Catholicism represents the fullness of faith. It is merely to recognize that in the face of a hostile and unbelieving world together really is better.

That is why the current initiative Better Together is to be welcomed. It presents a new and positive understanding of our vocation as Anglican Catholics. It reaches out to women and men of goodwill, despite profound differences in some matters, placing the good news which is Jesus above all else.

A northern perspective

All my ministry has been in the north of England. Yes, things are difficult everywhere, but the historic legacy of social deprivation is particularly felt here.

Yes, it is often grim but that is why we are needed here and why it is wonderful to be here too. AngloCatholics have always been good ‘down town’, and we are needed every bit now as yesterday. Dare we walk away? Dare we not link arms to work together with fellow Anglicans and others simply because so much is needed?

The future is very uncertain for traditional catholics in the Church of England but if we are going to stay after November it will be no use doing so as an embittered rump who simply pull up the drawbridge and retreat into a haze of nostalgia for the ‘good old days’.

We need to try and build on the best of our patrimony so that we can begin to flourish and grow, and especially to join with all who share our vision. And there is one big thing in our favour.

After November we will not have to fight the battles of the recent past (we will have largely lost them!) and with that will come a freedom we have not known for years. Maybe we can begin again to sing the song of the Lord even in this alien land. ND

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